Speak to discuss ancient and deep groundwater in search of life on Earth and beyond

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – The study of subterranean environments and subterranean processes is becoming increasingly important in our understanding of planetary evolution, habitability, and the search for life. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University Professor of Earth Sciences and Norman Keevil Chair in Ore Geology at the University of Toronto, will discuss her research on this topic at the conference entitled “Imaging Habitable Worlds – Lessons from the Deep Biosphere and Hydrogeosphere ”.

The virtual conference, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 28. Participants can watch through Zoom or meet at 220 Hammond Building on the University Park campus to watch the virtual lecture. The conference is part of the Penn State Department of Geosciences Fall 2021 Symposium Series and has been selected as the Symposium’s 125th Anniversary Celebration Conference in honor of the 125th anniversary of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

The talk will focus on some of the highlights of recent exploration of the energy-rich ‘hidden hydrogeosphere’ – or isolated water systems deep underground over long geological timescales – in the Precambrian crust, and the links with deep underground life on Earth and beyond for planetary exploration and astrobiology.

Science has long relied on fluid inclusions – microscopic time capsules of fluid and gas locked in host rocks and fracture minerals – to access preserved samples of mineralizing fluids, metamorphic fluids, and remnants of the ancient atmosphere and hydrosphere.

Until recently, groundwater was thought to reflect only much more recent periods of water-rock interaction and Earth’s history, due to dilution with large volumes of younger fluids recharging at from the surface hydrosphere. However, over the past 10 to 20 years, global surveys of the world’s oldest rocks have revealed ancient groundwater that has not been exposed to the surface for millions, if not billions, of years. some sites.

These groundwater provide unprecedented samples for the study of Earth’s ancient hydrosphere and atmosphere and they open up new avenues for exploring the biodiversity of existing life in the Earth’s subsoil and habitability. planetary. Beyond Earth, these findings are relevant for understanding the role of water-rock chemical reactions, in particular radiolysis, in defining the potential habitability of Mars’ subsoil, as well as that of oceanic worlds and frozen bodies such as Europe and Enceladus.

Sherwood Lollar is a member of the American Geophysical Union, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemistry. She is co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Studies research program, Earth 4D: Subsurface Science and Exploration. In 2021, she was elected an International Fellow of the United States National Academy of Engineering.

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